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Interview with NCC President Andrew Iler on Hamilton’s Pan Am 2015 Velodrome

by Chris Keam

November 25, 2009 (Hamilton, ON) – The announcement by the Pan American Sport Organization on Nov. 7 awarding Toronto the 2015 Pan-Am Games is welcome news in Canadian track cycling circles. As part of the games, Hamilton will get a new 250m indoor velodrome built to meet international competition standards. It’s a much-needed facility according to Andrew Iler, president of the National Cycling Centre.

“It’s a gaping hole in our cycling infrastructure in this country that we can’t host a major event,” says Iler. “Our athletes have to go away to other countries to compete.” He points out that Canada lags behind other nations in building the necessary infrastructure to foster the development of its track riders.

“Since the Manchester velodrome was built in 1994 Great Britain has won 20 Olympic medals and 68 World Championship medals in track cycling alone. Australia, same thingS Tasmania has 18 velodromes. It’s a tiny island and they have 18 velodromes. New Zealand has 24 velodromes. They’re considering building three new indoor velodromes and they have a population of slightly over 4 million people. They’re starting to win medals at international competitions. Spain has 71 velodromes, including two international caliber tracks on the tiny island of Majorca. They’re recognizing all aspects that the velodrome brings, from high performance right down to being a safe place for kids to ride a bike away from traffic,” adds Iler.

How much the velodrome will end up costing remains unknown at this point but Iler wants to see a long-term perspective used in the decision-making process. “You can put in a facility that isn’t substantial, but you’ll be challenged in hosting future events. If part of the reason for building it is to host future international events, or to have a long term legacy for competitive cycling and community cycling, then it’s really about substance. What are the amenities, what is the scope of the facility and how long do you want it to last?”

“Those are questions that still need to be answered. I think the real challenge is making sure the facility is adequate for the long-term growth of the sport. I think there’s a very large educational component that needs to be done, to make sure we get the kind of facility that’s going to bring us into the twenty-first century in competitive cycling,” explains Iler.

He’s hoping the Canadian cycling community will rally behind the Pan-Am initiative. Supporters can join the Facebook group “Hamilton Velodrome Community” as a first step.

“The cycling community really needs to come together and support it so we do it right. No facility is going to make everyone happy, but having the right plan and executing it properly is going to create a facility that’s going to help hundreds of athletes over the next decade get on the national team and the world circuit and show that we can be a successful cycling nation and regain some of the glory we had in the mid-80s on the road. And, we’ve had some good success lately on the track, but we can challenge the cycling powers – we just need the facilities to do it.”

While fostering Canadian track cycling excellence is a big part of Iler’s enthusiasm for the new velodrome, he says that community involvement will be an important factor in a successful facility.

“The velodrome is a participant-based facility. A few of the drivers that will make it a success are making sure it is used to the maximum with programs that meet all the community needs and that it’s accessible to all the people who are going to be using it. You can build the facility anywhere, but unless people are using it, it’s going to be challenged. Accessibility and maximum usage are the key drivers for this. The people who are going to use it are going to use it on a daily basis, for training, and fitness, and exercise.”

And while some may question the need for a new Canadian velodrome, Iler claims track racing offers an exciting, spectator-friendly atmosphere – seeing is believing when it comes to getting people onboard with the idea.

“Something happened in the last year and a half. The case we’ve been building and the PR and education component got the newspapers, council, community leaders seeing the velodrome as the most exciting part of the Pan am games to come to Hamilton. Politicians went to Manchester and saw a competition and were blown away.”

As with cost, there’s no definite timeline for the velodrome’s construction at this early stage. The facility will need to be open about a year before the Games, for testing. Iler is hoping Canadian track riders will be on the boards before then. “The sooner the better. If we want to win medals we need a place to train and the best training is competitions.”

The Toronto 2015 Pan American Games will take place July 10-26 and the Parapan American Games (for disabled athletes) will run August 7-14.

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